THE MAN WHO STOLE THE DISH OF GOLD IN WHICH THE DOG ATE
There was once a man, who was overborne with debt, and his case was straitened upon him, so that he left his people and family and went forth in distraction. He wandered on at random till he came to a high-walled and splendidly built city and entered it in a state of wretchedness and despair, gnawed with hunger and worn with the toil of his journey. As he passed through one of the streets, he saw a company of notables going along; so he followed them, till they entered a house like to a royal palace. He entered with them, and they stayed not till they came in presence of a man of the most dignified and majestic aspect, seated at the upper end of a saloon and surrounded by pages and servants, as he were of the sons of the Viziers. When he saw the visitors, he rose and received them with honour; but the poor man was confounded at the goodliness of the place and the crowd of servants and attendants and drawing back, in fear and perplexity, sat down apart in a place afar off, where none should see him.
After awhile, in came a man with four hunting-dogs, clad in various kinds of silk and brocade and having on their necks collars of gold with chains of silver, and tied up each dog in a place set apart for him; after which he went out and presently returned with four dishes of gold, full of rich meats, one of which he set before each dog. Then he went away and left them, whilst the poor man began to eye the food, for stress of hunger, and would fain have gone up to one of the dogs and eaten with him; but fear of them withheld him. Presently, one of the dogs looked at him and God the Most High inspired him with a knowledge of his case; so he drew back from the platter and beckoned to the man, who came and ate, till he was satisfied. Then he would have withdrawn, but the dog pushed the dish towards him with his paw, signing to him to take it and what was left in it for himself. So the man took the dish and leaving the house, went his way, and none followed him. Then he journeyed to another city, where he sold the dish and buying goods with the price, returned to his own town. There he sold his stock and paid his debts; and he prospered and became rich and at his ease.
After some years had passed, he said to himself, 'Needs must I repair to the city of the owner of the dish, which the dog bestowed on me, and carry him its price, together with a fit and handsome present.' So he took the price of the dish and a suitable present and setting out, journeyed night and day, till he came to the city and entering, went straight to the place where the man's house had been; but lo, he found there nothing but mouldering ruins and dwelling-places laid waste, over which the raven croaked; for the place was desert and the environs changed out of knowledge. At this, his heart and soul were troubled and he repeated the words of him who saith:The privy chambers are void of all their hidden store, As hearts of the fear of God and the virtues all of yore.
And those of another :The phantom of Saada came to me by night, near the break of day, And roused me, whenas my comrades all in the desert sleeping lay.
When he saw what the hand of time had manifestly done with the place, leaving but traces of the things that had been aforetime, the testimony of his eyes made it needless for him to enquire of the case; so he turned away and seeing a wretched man, in a plight that made the skin quake and would have moved the very rock to pity, said to him, 'Harkye, sirrah! What have time and fortune done with the master of this place? Where are his shining full moons (53) and splendid stars; (54) and what is the cause of the ruin that is come upon his abode, so that but the walls thereof remain?' Quoth the other, 'He is the miserable wretch thou seest bewailing that which hath befallen him. Knowest thou not the words of the Prophet (whom God bless and preserve), wherein is a lesson to him who will profit by it and an admonition to whoso will be guided thereby in the right way? "Verily it is the way of God the Most High to raise up nothing of this world, except He cast it down again." If thou enquire of the cause of this thing, indeed, it is no wonder, considering the vicissitudes of fortune. I was the master of this place and its builder and founder and owner and lord of its shining full moons and radiant damsels and of all its splendid circumstance an magnificent garniture; but Fortune turned and did away from me wealth and servants, overwhelming me unawares with disasters unforeseen and bringing me to this sorry plight. But there must needs be some reason for this thy question: tell it me and leave wondering.'
So the other told him the whole story, sore concerned at what he heard and saw, and added, 'I have brought thee a present such as souls desire, and the price of thy dish of gold, that I took; for it was the cause of my becoming rich, after poverty, and of the reinstating of my dwelling-place, after desolation, and of the doing away of my trouble and straitness from me.' But the poor man shook his head, groaning and weeping and lamenting, and answered, 'O man, methinks thou art mad; for this is not the fashion of a man of understanding. How should a dog of mine make gift to thee of a dish of gold and I receive back its price? This were indeed a strange thing! By Allah, were I in the straitest misery and unease, I would not accept of thee aught, no, not the worth of a nail-paring! So return whence thou camest, in health and safety.'
The merchant kissed his feet and taking leave of him, returned whence he came, praising him and reciting the following verse:The men and eke the dogs are gone and vanished all. Peace be upon the men and dogs, whate'er befall!